First Wilko Shop Closures Begin after Rescue Fails

The first Wilko shop closures will begin on Tuesday after the collapsed retail chain failed to find a buyer. Stores including those in Liverpool, Cardiff, Acton and Falmouth are among 24 branches to shut, with a further 28 closing on Thursday. It marks the beginning of the end of the Wilko brand on the High Street, with all 400 of the discount chain’s shops set to close by October. Around 12,500 staff are likely to lose their jobs.

Wilko fell into administration in August after struggling with losses and fierce competition from other discount chains, such as Poundland and The Range.

Doug Putman, the billionaire owner of music retailer HMV, had been trying to buy at least 100 Wilko shops but the deal fell through as rising costs complicated the deal.

On Monday, administrators PwC said that “despite extensive efforts” it had become clear that “no significant part of the Wilko operations can be rescued”.

Rival B&M has agreed to buy 51 of Wilko’s buildings in a £13m deal, but it is understood the stores will not be run under the Wilko brand. Similarly, Poundland is understood to be interested in buying up to 70 Wilko stores and rebranding them to boost its own portfolio.

Independent retail analyst Maureen Hinton said Wilko’s store locations were part of its problems.

“Accessibility for the kind of products it was selling is very limited – it’s very difficult to carry home bulky products from a High Street where you can’t have access to cars and parking, which is being deterred in High Streets,” she told the BBC. She added that Wilko did not organise its store portfolio as soon as soon it should have done because it had such high High Street rent costs, which was a particular problem during a time when Wilko’s competitors were expanding.

Meanwhile, retailers including Dunelm and Toolstation have urged Wilko employees to apply for roles at their businesses, saying they will be prioritised for vacancies.

A further 124 shops will close between 17 and 21 September including sites in Bognor Regis, Humberstone in Leicestershire and Maidenhead

On Monday, one Wilko worker, who asked not to be named, told BBC News that she was “sick and tired now, everyone is stressed”. The employee, who has worked for the retail chain for 15 years, added that she felt “let down by Wilko, the union and the administration people”.

Nadine Houghton, national officer at the GMB union, said: “Wilko was far more than a brand, a retailer or the products it sold, it was the thousands of loyal team members now facing an uncertain future.”

In Stafford, the Wilko store saw a steady stream of customers on its final day, with some shoppers holding heavily discounted products as they left. One customer said that local businesses had been handing out job applications to staff, saying: “We look after our own.”

Founded in 1930, Wilko had become one of Britain’s fastest-growing retailers by the 1990s. However, more recently its large store portfolio became unsustainable, with the business owning too many shops in High Street locations at a time when out-of-city retail parks were becoming more popular with consumers.

Coupled with a lacklustre online offering, the family-run chain faced the perfect storm, analysts say.

Lisa Wilkinson, who was Wilko’s chairwoman until January and who is the granddaughter of the chain’s founder, said “everybody has thrown everything” at trying to save the business.

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